Before dawn, 124 law enforcement officers from nine agencies met for a briefing before Operation Crime Driver officially began.
The speeches, prayer and instructions began at 4:06 a.m. with the Dyersburg State Community College auditorium packed almost to capacity.
“I’m tired of my phone ringing about shots fired,” Sheriff Pancho Chumley told the crowd. “I want something more pleasant to talk about. I’m just ready to ring their doorbell and knock on their door for a change.”
And knock they did.
Armed with a list of 228 people they believe drive crime in Tipton County, 17 teams began canvassing the county at 5:45 a.m. to conduct compliance checks for those on probation and pick up others with active warrants. The target was people believed to be driving criminal activity.
By 5:47 a.m., two people on Simonton Street in Covington were already in custody. An hour later convicted felon Maurice Nash had been placed into the back of a patrol car after guns, drugs and cash were found at his Faulkner Road home.
District Attorney General Mark Davidson said, “We’re excited to be here, to have local, state and federal law enforcement together as a team to play some offense. We’re usually running defense.”
In addition to the Tipton County Sheriff’s Office, the operation involved the U.S. Marshals, ATF, Tennessee Highway Patrol, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, Tennessee Department of Corrections, Board of Probation and Parole, Memphis’s Multi-agency Gang Unit, Constable James Stroud, the 25th Judicial District Drug Task Force, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the District Attorney General’s office.
The operation was a direct result of the six shootings in Covington on Feb. 20 where four people were injured.
Eschewing a politically correct mindset, the sheriff said, “Let’s not make no mistake about it, they’re nothing but terrorists when they’re shooting people’s houses up, shooting into a house where they don’t know what’s going on … The warnings are over with. The warnings are done. Enough’s enough.”
That the area has a problem with gang violence is no secret. There are nearly 1,800 documented gang members across the county, not just in Covington, and experts suggest there are actually three gang members for every one documented.
“As ATF we’re asked to go out to the worst of the worst, address gang violence and to address trigger pullers,” said resident agent in charge Marcus Best. “I think today we removed a couple of the trigger pullers from off the street, we removed firearms that have illegally been on the street.”
At convicted felon Maurice Nash’s home in Atoka, a semi-automatic rifle, .40 caliber handgun, “a substantial amount” of ecstasy, marijuana and cash were seized. Recently released from prison, Nash is a career offender whose five charges Friday brought him to 104 total charges in Tipton County since 1992.
“Most importantly, he’s off the streets,” said Davidson. “That’s public safety improvement for Tipton County and I think it helps send a message to other people like him that they’ll be joining him soon.”
As tough as it is seeing his home battle such an overwhelming problem with violent crime, Chumley maintains there are more “good, hardworking” people in Tipton County than there are bad ones. He wants the bad ones to leave.
“I hate for someone else to deal with it, but I sure don’t want it here. There are no excuses left. We don’t want them here if they’re going to be shooting in houses.”
By noon, Friday’s operation brought in 16 arrests, most of those in Covington:
- Lisa Hughlett, 41, 505 Simonton Street, Covington; possession of scheduled II
- Maurice Nash, 45, 91 Talley Road, Atoka; possession of schedule I possession of schedule I with intent, convicted felon in possession of a weapon, possession of schedule VI with intent, manufacturing/delivery/sell of a controlled substance
- Herbert Taylor, 37, 606 Jackson Street, Covington; possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony
- Isca Johnson, 22, 150 Peeler Road, Apt. J79, Covington; possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony, possession fo schedule IV with intent, simple possession of marijuana
- Lawrence Brent, 26, 87 Tatlock Cove, Covington; possession of marijuana with intent, possession of drug paraphernalia, public intoxication
- Wendell Boyd, 48, 1150 Simonton Street, Apt. 906, Covington; Civil Rights intimidation
- Jaimayon Terry, 19, 406 Baxter Street, Covington; resist/stop/frisk/halt, criminal simulation
- Marcus Green, 37, 447 N. Maple Street, Covington; distribution/possession of a controlled substance
- Tamika Springfield, 36, 1846 Wooten Street, Covington; driving on a revoked/suspended/cancelled license
- Christie Parham, 33, 1514 Sandpiper Drive, Covington; driving on revoked/suspended/cancelled license, misuse of registration
- Thomas Holmes, 63, 1150 Simonton Street, Apt. 706, Covington; driving on revoked/suspended/cancelled license
- Ashley Currie, 26, 150 Peeler Road, Apt. J78, Covington; theft
- Terry Bell, 58, Ripley; driving on revoked/suspended/cancelled license (arrested in Lauderdale Co. Jail)
- Daniel K. Heatherly, 38, 2992 Edith Nankipoo Road, Ripley; driving on revoked/suspended/cancelled license (arrested in Lauderdale Co. Jail)
- John M. Jennings, 34, 636 Hannah Drive, Ripley; aggravated assault with injury (arrested in Lauderdale Co. Jail)
- Vicki J. Roach/Dowell, 52, 1281 ARP Central Road, Ripley; theft (arrested in Lauderdale Co. Jail)
Five of those arrested – including Nash and Greene, a former Shelby County correctional officer who was convicted of selling oxycodone at the jail – may also face federal charges, said U.S. Attorney Mike Dunavant.
“We’ve identified people who are, in fact, crime drivers in this community,” Dunavant said. “We know who you are, you can’t hide. Here in Tipton County federal law still applies and we will hold you accountable. We’re going to make this community safer one bad guy at a time.”
In addition, the Tennessee Highway Patrol conducted 105 traffic stops and issued 96 citations during the effort.
Davidson called Operation Crime Driver a big success.
“This will be a continued public safety effort, there will be more operations. We want the criminals to know we are taking note, we are paying attention to the crimes that are being committed in our communities. We also want the public to know … our communities will not be filled with violence and fear but, instead, with peace and dignity.”
Though more than a dozen arrests were made Friday, officials are not certain they are directly linked to the Feb. 20 shooting spree.
Davidson said he hopes the operation will begin having an immediate impact on public safety.
“Hopefully this is a deterrent for anyone who wants to commit crimes in the future,” said Chumley. “The good people of Covington that wanted some peace called and we answered. We got out there to do our best and we made a difference … so people can enjoy being out in their yard without any type of fear of confrontation or gunfire.”